Nina Santos: Discrimination drives pay gaps into chasms

OPINION

It’s been great to see some noise around the gender pay gap recently, but it needs pointing out that the lack of an intersectional approach is not good enough.

The thing with averages is that they hide the real problem: that New Zealand’s pay gaps are much worse for Māori, Pasifika, ethnic women, migrants, people with disabilities, and gender-diverse communities.

We need to acknowledge that these gaps are in part driven by racism, bias, and discrimination in workplaces.

If you’re a person of colour and a migrant in New Zealand, the odds of getting fair pay are stacked against you. I know this from experience. It’s not just a matter of asking for more or working harder.

It’s near impossible to break through due to the lack of bargaining power and a range of structural barriers. Take, for instance, the “bondage” nature of work visas to employers, discrimination, and then add a cherry on top: the strong culture of pay secrecy and the lack of pay gap transparency in workplaces.

Diversity Works has released research that paints a picture of the migrant pay gap in Aotearoa. The message? Inequality is not created equal.

In 2018, the average hourly wage of a migrant from South Africa was 32.9 per cent higher than the average wage of a migrant from Mainland Southeast Asia. Migrants who spoke English and another language were more likely to earn a lower wage than migrants who
spoke English only.

I feel like a clown for thinking that being bilingual was an asset that could bump up my pay grade in the near future. Time to remove that from my CV, eh?

I’m lucky that I now have the time and headspace to worry about addressing pay gaps.

When we moved to Auckland, my family of five slept in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and my parents took minimum wage jobs. They were focused on survival. Thanks to the “grateful migrant effect”, they were made to feel like they should be happy with the bare minimum.

I’ve internalised a lot of this growing up. In my head, I always tell myself, “What you’re earning is still so much more than what you’d earn in the Philippines” – and this is the kind of discourse I see a lot in the comments of articles about migrants.

The message is: just be grateful. This is absolute BS.

In New Zealand, in 2022, everyone should expect to be paid fairly regardless of where they were born or the colour of their skin.

While pay gaps are an “organisational” issue, it’s impossible to separate this from the bigger structural barriers at play. Ultimately, this leaves us with little-to-no bargaining power to demand better work conditions and for fair pay.

So, what now?

We need to take the burden of asking off the hands of those without the bargaining power to do so.

Business and Government – I’m talking to you.

There’s no silver bullet, but pay gap reporting is a simple, tangible way for companies to bridge pay gaps. We know from international evidence that when businesses report their pay gaps, they can work towards closing them.

Pay gaps thrive in silence. This is why I ask you to put pay gaps in the spotlight on the Public Pay Gap Registry at mindthegap.nz.

Business leaders and executives. Put this topic on the agenda and tell us that you care about women; Māori and Pasifika; ethnic communities; and about migrants. Put us on your priority list.

MindTheGap will be campaigning all year until the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act in October.

With the widening sizes of pay gaps in this country, it’s a time for change.

• Nina Santos is a final year Law (Hons) and Arts student at the University of Auckland and the delivery manager for the MindTheGap campaign.

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